A capable portrait of grief, longing, and second chances.

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PISGAH ROAD

A novel chronicles the life of a young man searching for closure from an unfulfilling past.

Lonely at age 30, the narrator faces a moment of crisis when both of his parents die in quick succession. On her deathbed, his mother confesses something he already knew: As a young wife, she fell in love with a woman, but chose to stay with her family. When the narrator’s father dies unexpectedly in his sleep soon after, everyone treats the event like the ultimate confirmation of the couple’s love for each other. The narrator has no such illusions, and relates these incidents in a tone both wry and tender. But having received $10,000 in cash from his father as a parting gift, along with the command “Don’t spend it well,” he decides that it’s time to face his own demons. Interspersed with these family sketches are memories from 10 to 15 years ago, when the narrator’s family moved to London and he became best friends with an impulsive teenager named Daniel Wright. Another figure haunts these reflections: Gabrielle Desidéria, one of Daniel’s best friends, whom the narrator loved for five years before gathering the courage to ask her out. But as he continues to darkly hint, “Daniel brought her to me and then he took her away” just a few months after they became a couple. Now, a decade older and world-weary, the narrator arranges to reunite with a married Gabrielle in London. In Amouzegar’s (A Dark Sunny Afternoon, 2016, etc.) tale, the narrator’s work at a secret government agency is an odd and unnecessary subplot. And the novel’s tone seems more fitting for a protagonist of 60 rather than 30. Nevertheless, the primary plots sing with nostalgia and regret, beautifully capturing the narrator’s struggles with his own vulnerability. The author’s touch is light as his characters deny their feelings, to themselves and to one another, until the right circumstances finally allow them to speak. But even as it presents such scenes, the story challenges the idea that people are ever handed the perfect moments to create the lives they want.

A capable portrait of grief, longing, and second chances.

Pub Date: June 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62868-206-9

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Fountain Blue Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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